Juvenile Interrogation Techniques Can Result in False Confessions

Children are now being exposed to a controversial interrogation technique by adults that can lead to false confessions the American Bar Association (ABA) reports.

The ABA newsletter urges parents and teachers to fight the use of the Reid Technique in their schools. It encourages parents to demand that they be notified before a principal plans to interrogate their child.

John E. Reid & Associates, the developers of the Reid Technique, “appears to be expanding the use of its technique on kids. In addition to training police interrogators, the company is now marketing its technique to school administrators across the country,” the ABA reported. So far, this training has occurred in at least 12 states.

The Reid Technique is a set of psychological tactics designed for one purpose: “to extract confessions …. The technique is a guilt-presumptive, accusatory, manipulative process,” the ABA reported.

Children have a greater propensity toward false confessions due to the use of psychological interrogation techniques designed for seasoned adult criminals that exploit the developmental vulnerabilities of kids, according to the ABA.

“Bottom line: using … potent techniques like the Reid Technique on students is … a recipe for disaster,” the ABA reported.

Some of these vulnerabilities are attributed to what is called the “juvenile brain,” which is more prone to traits like impulsiveness, vulnerability, as well as a tendency to be motivated by short-term rewards. This can include giving in to the pressures of interrogation by deciding that a confession is the only way out of a difficult situation, regardless of its truth, the ABA notes.

The Reid website cautions that it is “well-accepted that juvenile suspects are more susceptible to falsely confess than adults.” The site warns that “every interrogator must exercise extreme caution and care when interviewing or interrogating a juvenile.”

The consequences of using the Reid Technique on children are not lost on the U.S. Supreme Court, the ABA reports.

“In the landmark 1966 decision Miranda v. Arizona, the court cited the Reid Technique to conclude that the ‘heavy toll’ of custodial interrogation may result in false confessions,” the ABA noted.

“The court went even further in 2009, in Corley v. United States, stating that ‘there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures (of psychological interrogation generally, not specific to the Reid Technique) can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed,’” the ABA added.

False confessions played a role in nearly 30 percent of all wrongful convictions that have been uncovered by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project.

There were 221 exonerations since 1989 that involved proven false confessions, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Children are two to three times more likely to falsely confess during interrogation than adults, according to the ABA.

“Confessions are incredibly powerful evidence. A full 81 percent of proven false confessors whose case went to trial were convicted — and that figure does not account for those false confessors who pled guilty before trial. (Of the first 125 DNA exonerees who falsely confessed, 11 percent pled guilty.) People, including judges and juries, are very reluctant to believe that a confession might be false — and the result, too often, can be a wrongful conviction,” the newsletter stated.

–John Lam


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